The Best Toys for Young Neurodivergent Kids
This feature is part of Cubby's Gift Edit, our editor-curated collection of gift ideas for every occasion. Need more inspiration? Check out all our guides here.
“Neurodiversity is the idea that there’s natural variation in how people’s brains work and how people experience, understand, and interact with the world,” says Evon Mucek, M.Ed, DT, a developmental therapist and parent coach. She says while there’s plenty of negative language around the “inflexible” or “obsessive” nature of neurodivergent kids, our children’s special interests can actually be one of their strengths.
Mucek says that to help little ones thrive, parents and caregivers can find different ways to connect and engage with their neurodivergent kids in meaningful ways. One way to do that is to have games and toys on hand that inspire just the sort of play your kids are interested in — whether that’s sensory or creative play.
In this article: What To Look For | Fidget Toys | Sensory Toys | Social Emotional Learning Toys | Creative Play
What To Look For In Toys for Neurodivergent Kids
When shopping for young kids with special interests, Mucek reminds us that “Neurodivergent children are all dynamic in their own way and it’s important to not categorize them as all having the same interests.” You won’t find a one-size-fits-all toy, but there are shopping tips to keep in mind. Mucek recommends the following:
- Pay attention to sensory needs. If your child is sensitive to loud noises, for example, choose toys with volume control.
- Take a cue from your child’s natural motivations. Don’t suppress their interests, build upon them.
- Keep your child’s developmental needs in mind and choose items that not only meet them where they are, but are also developmentally appropriate.
- Spark a conversation. Don’t shy away from asking little ones what they like — and even flipping through a toy catalog to gauge their interests.
When it’s time for Mucek to discover new toys and playthings for kids with special interests, she leans toward items that support a child’s social emotional needs and have less emphasis on following the rules. When it comes down to it, she says, it’s all about growing that bond between you and inspiring fun and playfulness — no matter what toy you choose to play with.
Sarah H., a mom to a 9-year-old boy, says the toys that work best in their home all have one thing in common: they are open-ended and can be manipulated and enjoyed in numerous ways. “He likes toys that don’t have specific rules to follow in order to enjoy them,” Sarah says. “He spends the majority of his day struggling to conform to the ‘rules’ of society, and I think he likes playing in a way that doesn’t have limits.”
17 Toys and Gifts We Love For Neurodivergent Kids
All children have their own interests and needs, and we don’t expect to find a toy that appeals to every little one on our gift-giving list. If you’re shopping for a neurodivergent child, consider this guide a good starting point. Here you’ll find 17 of our favorite toys, organized into four main categories: fidget toys, sensory toys, social emotional learning toys, and toys for creative play.
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